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Jujutsu, Jujitsu and Jiu-Jitsu: What’s in a name?
by BJA Instructor Mike Rossi

“Jujitsu” is not actually a well-defined term. Saying that one studies jujitsu is similar to saying that one studies martial arts. Generally, jujitsu is a hand to hand fighting method concerned with defending oneself against attack. There are a large number of methods, both classical and modern, some focus on grappling, some on joint locks and throwing techniques and some even specialize in striking.

(NOTE: “jujutsu” is actually the proper pronunciation and English spelling and will be used when referring to the various classical Japanese schools. “Jujitsu” is the common western pronunciation and istypically used by the modern methods of the art developed outside of Japan. “Jiu-jitsu” is an older English spelling and has become the standard when referring to the system developed in Brazil by the Gracie family.)

Jujutsu was originally created by the samurai as a hand to hand combat method for the battlefields of ancient Japan. While military training primarily focused on armed combat, methods had to be devised for a worst-case scenario when a warrior found himself without his sword and facing an armed opponent.

Early jujutsu tactics generally consisted of closing the distance with the enemy to grapple. Once in close, the opponent’s use of his sword was greatly nullified. This allowed the warrior to either bring to bear a smaller weapon, such as a dagger or short sword, to attack gaps in his enemy’s armor or throw his opponent down where they could be immobilized and finished off with a joint breaking technique or weapon.

As Japan became relatively unified and peaceful, mass battlefield conflicts became less commonplace and one-on-one encounters between two unarmored opponents became the norm. Military tactics adapted and unarmed fighting techniques became more numerous and sophisticated as the need for their application increased.

However, it wasn’t until the abolishment of the samurai class and the teaching of jujutsu to civilians that jujutsu really began to grow. Now that the focus of most combat had shifted from armored warriors fighting on the battlefield to everyday citizens using jujutsu for self defense, the various schools and techniques grew tenfold. This emphasis on self defense over battlefield combat is what led jujutsu to develop many schools, or “Ryu”, that primarily (if not solely) focused on hand to hand fighting and not just as a secondary method to armed combat.

There are many schools of jujutsu in Japan today. Many practice the same techniques that have been handed down for centuries in their lineage. These classical schools, known as “koryu”, are very, very rare outside of Japan. There are perhaps less than a dozen people licensed to teach these methods in the United States.

There also exist several modern schools of jujutsu, known as “gendai” arts. Perhaps the two most popular are Judo and Aikido.

Judo was developed by Jigoro Kano, a pivotal figure in Japanese education and sport, who devised the method from his studies in the Kito Ryu and Tenshin Shinyo Ryu jujutsu. Judo is now widely practiced around the world as an Olympic sport and method of self defense.

Aikido was founded by Moreihei Ueshiba based on his studies of the Daito Ryu and influenced by a number of other jujutsu schools. Aikido is a very popular martial art, offering physical and spiritual development as well as a solid method of personal defense.

There also exist a large number of self defense systems that have been formed in the past few decades both inside and outside of Japan. These methods of modern jujitsu often combine techniques from judo, karate and aikido..

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a system developed from the Gracie family from Brazil. Its techniques are derived from early Kodokan judo, and have adapted over time to focus on grappling and self defense applications. Jiu-jitsu is taught both as a means of combat wherein a smaller person can use technique and leverage to defeat a larger, stronger attacker and as a competitive sport.

The fighting techniques of Brazilian jiu-jitsu follow the same strategy used by the ancient samurai: close the distance, take the opponent down and immobilize them. Once controlled, the decision can be made to finish the fight using strikes, joint breaks or to simply restrain the opponent depending upon the severity of the encounter.

At the Bushido Jiu-Jitsu Academy, we train our students in all facets of the art, from competition to self defense. Using techniques that were formed both on the ancient battlefield generations ago as well as modern techniques developed on tournament mats within the last ten years. We strive to not just develop strong competitors or people that can defend themselves in a street fight, but well-rounded martial artists with the warrior spirit.

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  1. I really like this article. Lots of historical information from someone that has actually studied most (if not all) of the arts he’s writing about, not just read Wikipedia. I have to try to make more Tuesday nights.

  2. Great article Mike. Lots of people who are trying Jiu-Jitsu for the first time will ask these questions. It is as important for students of the martial arts to understand the history and evolution of the arts as it is to be proficient in the physical side of the arts. Again, nice article.